Jamal LewisPower Rankings And A Full Slate Of Analysis

Normally, around this time of year, I am consumed with Christmas anticipation. I’m still looking forward to Christmas this year, but this time around something is different. The smell of NFL playoffs lingers in the cool, crisp Ohio air. The 8-5 Cleveland Browns are gearing up to play in one of the absolute biggest games since the return of the franchise in 1999. This holiday season, this Browns team has been the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s to hoping this continues to be the case this weekend as the Browns take on the 7-6 Buffalo Bills in a fight for the 6th and final spot in the playoffs.

Now, on to the analysis, starting with the assorted power rankings. After a setback last week and a slide in the rankings, the Browns are working on climbing back up. First up, as always, Mr. Matt “ESPN is paying me to talk about the Cowboys nonstop” Mosley’s Hashmark’s Power Rankings. This week Matt has the Browns back in the top 10, at #10 exactly.

Jason Cole and Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports have the Browns up 2 spots each in their Power Rankings. Cole has the Browns moving up from #12 to #10. Robinson, who didn’t drop the Browns last week quite as far as many others, has the Browns jumping 2 spots from #9 to #7.

Next up is ESPN.com’s Power Rankings. The ESPN guys have the Browns moving up from #11 to #10. Mike McAllister writes,

“If the Browns don’t make the playoffs, they’ll have only themselves to blame, since they control their own fate with three games left. Beating Buffalo (home), Cincinnati (away) and SF (home) isn’t asking too much.”

Moving on, we get to the CBS SportsLine Power Rankings. Here, Pete Prisco has the Browns going from #10 to #9. He writes,

“Who could have imagined their game with the Bills this week would be so big? If they win, they are probably in the playoffs.”

On to the Fox Sports Power Rankings. Like most of the others, they have the Browns going up 1 spot, from #11 to #10.  Peter Schrager writes,

“Up two points with a little over a minute left, Jamal Lewis had arguably his biggest run of the season, carrying three Jets en route to a game-sealing, 31-yard touchdown. In a game that pitted childhood rivals Derek Anderson and Kellen Clemens, the former came out with the victory. With the win, the Browns improved to 8-5 and took control of the second wild-card spot in the AFC. The Browns haven’t made the playoffs since 2002. A win over Buffalo next week, and they should be on the fast track to a postseason return.”

Now for a look at what the rest of the internet is saying about the Browns.

Zac Jackson for ClevelandBrowns.com takes a look at what’s at stake this Sunday when the Browns and Bills square off, saying,

“If the Browns don’t win this weekend, expect a wild finish. The Bills finish with the Giants at home and at Philadelphia. The Titans finish with the Jets at home and at Indianapolis against a Colts team that’s likely to have clinched a first-round bye.

Potential ties with the Jaguars and/or Titans would be broken first by AFC record and second by record against common opponents.”

Sticking with the ClevelandBrowns.com news room, staff writer Steve Kings takes a look at just how dominating the Browns’ pass protection has been this season. He writes,

“Browns quarterbacks were sacked 54 times in 2006, and Charlie Frye missed three games with a sprained wrist.

When the Browns returned to the field in 1999, Tim Couch set a franchise record when he went down 56 times. Two years later, it was 51.

You get the picture.

But that was then and this is now, and this season, after totally revamping their offensive line in the offseason by bringing in left tackle Joe Thomas and left guard Eric Steinbach, among others, the Browns are protecting their quarterback as well as any team in the NFL with the exception of one.

The Browns have given up just 16 sacks through 13 games heading into Sunday’s visit by the Buffalo Bills to Cleveland Browns Stadium. That ties them with the New England Patriots for second in the NFL behind the New Orleans Saints (11).

And since the middle of the second quarter of the season opener, when Anderson took over for Frye, the total has been just 11. Frye went down five times in 1½ quarters against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Browns are on pace to allow only about 20 sacks, which would tie for the fourth-lowest total in team history (also in 1969 in just a 14-game season). The club record is 14 in 1994. The Browns gave up 16 in 1970 and 19 in ’76, also in 14-game seasons. The NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.”

ClevelandBrowns.com also reports that the final fan votes for the Pro Bowl have been tallied, and at least one Browns’ player is in good shape to be a starter. Jeff Walcoff writes,

“2008 Pro Bowl voting has come to an end and the Browns finished with one player at the very top of the list at his position.

Garnering 370,862 votes, Eric Steinbach not only was the NFL’s top vote-getter at guard, but he led all offensive linemen in votes received.”

Jeff Schudel of the News-Herald warns that the Browns cannot afford to be satisfied with this season yet. He writes,

“The Bengals made the playoffs only once while Steinbach was with Cincinnati. They were 11-5 in 2005 and got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. They looked like a playoff team through the first three quarters of the 2006 season. In fact, after 13 games the 2006 Bengals had the same record the Browns do now. They were 8-5 and then lost 34-16 in Indianapolis, 24-23 in Denver and 23-17 to the Steelers at home.

An 8-8 record wasn’t enough to put the Bengals in the playoffs last year, and it won’t get the Browns to the playoffs this year.”

In the “sloppy journalism” department, Lesley Visser writes in an article for CBS SportsLine that Romeo, not GM Phil Savage, traded Charlie Frye, writing,

“”I knew Derek could play when I saw him last year against Kansas City,” said Crennel, who traded the team’s only experienced quarterback, Charlie Frye, to start Anderson. “Charlie got hurt and Derek led us to the win in overtime.””

I know, not a huge deal, but still…..Romeo Crennel did not trade any of the Browns players.

Over at the Orange-And-Brown Report, Rich Passan points out something I think a lot of us have been noticing….that the Browns defense has a tendency to fall asleep and lose its aggression. He writes,

“When are the Browns’ defensive coaches going to learn to that passive football generally leads to negative results? The Jets didn’t earn any of their points Sunday. The Browns allowed them to score them. They got away with it against New York. They won’t against the next two opponents, Buffalo and Cincinnati, teams that know how to score and pose serious problems to the Cleveland defense.”

Sean McClelland over at the Dayton Daily News makes his case for Phil Savage as Executive Of The Year. He says,

“Another owner might have panicked, but Lerner continued to support Savage, much as he had late in the 2005 season when he sided with the GM over power-hungry team president John Collins, who was soon sent away.

Keeping Savage in place has been the key. In the first two rounds since he’s been drafting players, the Browns have added Braylon Edwards, Brodney Pool, Kamerion Wimbley, D’Qwell Jackson, Joe Thomas, Brady Quinn and Eric Wright. All but Quinn are starters. Edwards and Thomas are having Pro Bowl seasons.

Other Savage home runs: Stealing quarterback Derek Anderson from the Ravens, hiring Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator, bringing in Jamal Lewis, standing behind injured tight end Kellen Winslow and signing guard Eric Steinbach.”

The Chronicle-Telegram’s Scott Petrak tells all of us Browns fans that no matter how bad things have been in the past, it’s ok to get excited about this Browns team, writing,

“I know as well as anyone under the age of 35 the pain Cleveland fans have been through. I can recite the litany of heartbreaks that have scarred Northeast Ohio and left many reluctant to put their hearts on the line again – especially for an imperfect underdog. I understand how the mind involuntarily goes to negative thoughts at the first sign of trouble.

But that’s no way to prepare for a run to the playoffs. The out-of-left-field revival of the Browns is what makes them a wonderful story, one worth embracing whole-heartedly.
The Browns are finally a fun team to watch. They score points and have a likable coach and a roster full of likable players. They have hometown heroes (Joe Jurevicius, Dave Zastudil) and Cinderella stories (Anderson, Joshua Cribbs).

They have a realistic chance to make the playoffs, win a game and be good for years to come. It’s OK to get excited.”

Patrick McManamon of the Akron Beacon-Journal takes an advance look at the Bills matchup to see how the Browns stack up. He writes,

“Take away the New England Patriots games, and the Bills would be 22nd in total defense, 26th in pass defense, 17th in rushing, and most importantly, seventh in scoring defense.

Those rankings aren’t glittering, but they’re sure better than the Browns’.

The flip side is that the Browns have rediscovered the home-field advantage, going 5-1 in Cleveland, and the Bills are starting a rookie quarterback in Trent Edwards and a rookie running back in Marshawn Lynch. Also, the Bills are 0-5 this season against teams with winning records.

If the Browns ever are going to win a big game, this would seem to be the week.”

Todd Porter of the Canton Repository points out the magnitude of this Bills game by writing,

Will Sunday’s game at Browns Stadium be the most meaningful since the franchise returned?

Yes. Sure Cleveland clinched a postseason spot in 2002 with a regular-season finale win against Atlanta. But this organization was at the cusp of chaos a week into this season. The starting quarterback was traded 24 hours after starting the season. Crennel looked like a deer in headlights. In short, the Browns were, again, the laughingstock.

Now look at them. Crennel is being mentioned as a coach of the year candidate. Phil Savage should be a cinch for general manager of the year.

So much has happened so soon for this team.”

Finally, we normally end these things with a bunch of quotes from the ESPN.com user chats with the Scouts Inc analysts. This was a pretty uneventful week, though, and the only quotes we have this week come from Matt Williamson’s chat.

JT (Toronto, Canada): Who will be the starting Offensive Tackles for the AFC in the Pro Bowl this year? Who beats out Jason Peters?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Peters is really good, but I would put him just behind Joe Thomas as the best AFC LT. Not sure if they pick LT and RT or just OT. If so, both will start. However, don’t be surprised if they get overlooked more than they should. the Pro Bowl is brutal on OLinemen. Dumb.

Mike(Cleveland): Matt, any chance the bears offer a big contract to derek anderson in the off season and the browns do not match?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Could happen. He would fit well there. Big arm to cut the wind. Spend draft picks and other resources on OLinemen who can pass block-as he has in Clev. I might let him go if I were in Clev’s shoes if Chi offers him a giant contract and Clev would get their 1st and 3rd in return. BIG investment for Chicago.

Nathan (Columbus, OH): After Adrian Peterson’s soft performance last week, does Joe Thomas have a realistic chance for Rookie of Year?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: I don’t think so. Peterson is still amongst the rushing leaders after that performance and missing two games. Thomas is great and might even deserve it, but it wont’ happen.

Mike (Cleveland): So I guess you aren’t doing any predicting today. Is Joe Thomas going to the Pro-bowl. I know Steinbach is going but Thomas is real good.

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Both are going. Thomas is a lock. Might be the best LT in the league already. Superstar.”

Take a minute and let that last sentence sink in for a bit. What a difference a year makes, and what a draft pick Joe Thomas turned out to be. Maybe it really was a sign when he chose to go fishing with his dad on draft day rather than go to NYC and go through all the press and dinners and exposure. Maybe we should have known right then how special of a player he would be. Regardless, he’s here, and he’s a major reason why the Browns are where they are today.